Updated: Jan 20, 2019
When it was originally announced that Academy-Award nominated actor Bradley Cooper would be making his directorial debut with the fourth remake of A Star is Born, it was almost an unfathomable event. Coming off his Academy Award nomination in American Sniper, many expected Cooper to take on a major blockbuster project, to capitalize on the noteworthy success of his previous film. However, as confirmed in a Q&A hosted after the screening, Cooper did anything but follow the expectations laid before him. Spending four years preparing for this debut, both fans and critics alike were unsure of what to expect from this remake, especially given that it marks the fourth telling of this nearly-fabled story. However, thanks to stunning lead performances from both Cooper and Lady Gaga and a tightly written screenplay that emphasizes the impressive marks of both its cast and story, A Star is Born is a riveting, touching and overall refreshing take on a story that may not offer any new surprises, but has such a distinct level of polish that it becomes nearly impossible to ignore.
A Star is Born, as stated before, marks the fourth remake of the original screenplay that was first put to film in 1973. Telling the story of the tragic relationship of singer Jackson Maine and the struggling artist Ally, the screenplay, written by Eric Roth, Cooper, and Will Fetters, doesn’t have any beats or attributes that it makes it particularly unique. However, while this may be practically expected of the film, it doesn’t soften the reality that the film rarely features any risks or bold decisions in its storytelling. It recognizes the strengths of what was on display in the previous versions of the film and decides to run with it wholeheartedly. With that decision, it then becomes clear just how refined and tempered the script actually is, in both its characterization and thematic storytelling. When it comes to the characterization, both Ally and Jackson Maine are compelling and feature some tightly written sequences of chemistry. Their relationship portrayed on the page may not have any distinct elements, but it still has just the right amount of charm, charisma and emotion to ensure an entertaining relationship, especially towards the heart-wrenching third act. Their relationship is essentially the heart of the film and it is a true feat of both the script and the cast that Gaga and Cooper are able to realize it in such a magnificent manner. In addition, the overall pacing of the film is another feat to behold.
Firing off with a series of crowd-pleasing moments, scenes that all introduce the story and characters in a rich manner, but concluding with a daringly quiet sequence, A Star is Born breaks almost all of the traditions of pacing in filmmaking. As a musical, I was expecting the film to place its astounding soundtrack first, a decision similar to 2017’s astounding hit at the box office, The Greatest Showman. However, it surprised me with how the writers never placed the music before the actual story. Without the soundtrack and music sequences, A Star is Born would still be just as good in its storytelling, an attribute that is rarely seen in musicals. However, while the pacing may be overall refined and pristinely polished in its execution, it’s ultimately clear that there are still some issues present within the screenplay. Throughout the film there are certain plot threads that end in an unsatisfying way, partially due to a pacing that can be a bit rocky at times in terms of coherency and consistency. These issues never entirely compromise the relationship and chemistry that Ally and Jackson are able to create as characters, but they are still nagging flaws or blemishes in what is otherwise a fantastic screenplay.
As mentioned before, the chemistry between Bradley Cooper as Jackson Maine and Lady Gag as Ally is excellent. The two share some moments that feel both dreadfully real but lovingly authentic. There was never a moment where the immersion that these two actors created was broken, a marvelous feat on both the screenwriters and the cast. While these two actors may flourish however, the rest of the cast does leave a little bit to be desired. None of them particularly stick out, with each of the supporting characters serving as trivial clichés in what is a refreshing take for A Star is Born.
Dave Chappelle as Bobby has little more to do other than serve as a brief cameo and Sam Elliot, iconic for his work as Wade Garrett in Road House, is also given the marred treatment as well, portraying a character that may be boisterous with charisma but is lacking in depth.
With the estimated production budget of 38 million, A Star is Born is certainly one of the more expensive musicals that have recently been produced. Prominent highlights from recent years, such as La La Land were only made for 30 million, also starring both a boisterous production and highlighted cast. However, Cooper and his team do make good work with the extra eight million that WB afforded to them. The soundtrack, as expected, is both beautiful and touching and is easily a massive highlight of the film. It serves as the wild crowd-pleaser of the film, resulting in moments that are dashing with color and energy. Cooper clearly puts in effort in order to be on a similar level as Gaga and the effort is clear whenever he begins singing. His voice perfectly resonates with that of Gaga’s rather high pitches.
As a whole, A Star is Born may not offer anything new to the story other than a star-studded cast and an earnest production budget. However, it still is a refreshing retelling of a story that is both beautiful and somber. For this time, especially with the failings of recent blockbusters, A Star is Born becomes all the more important, thanks to just how daringly quiet it can be at times. Rather than relying on its boisterous and energetic soundtrack, Cooper smartly places the focus on the story, cementing his position as a worthy director for the coming years.
Score: 8.6 out of 10
View a Q&A session from director and actor Bradley Cooper below!
A STAR IS BORN hits theaters on October 5th, 2018.